Discussions during CPS Energy’s monthly board of trustees meeting Monday focused on how to make San Antonio’s utility systems more resilient during bouts of severe weather, following the release of a report on February’s winter storm last week.
The cumulation of a four-month investigation by the Community Emergency Preparedness Committee, the report sought to determine the root causes of February’s winter storm crisis that left hundreds of thousands of CPS Energy customers without power, many for days, in below-freezing temperatures, and with little communication.
It placed much of the blame on the Texas Legislature, arguing that its decision to deregulate in 2002 has eroded the state power grid’s reliability over the last two decades. But the committee, formed by Mayor Ron Nirenberg in the wake of the crisis, also included more than 50 recommendations for CPS Energy, SAWS, and the city to better prepare and communicate during similar power grid failures in the future.
At the meeting Monday, Nirenberg, who sits on the utility’s board in his capacity as mayor, called the report a “a starting point” and said he has asked CPS Energy and SAWS to come up with ways to implement strategies to improve reliability based on the report’s recommendations that can be presented to the city council, viewed by the public, and updated as need be.
CPS Energy President and CEO Paula Gold-Williams reviewed highlights of the report for the trustees, including that CPS Energy officials helped get the committee information it needed to fulfill its mandate. She also noted that the report’s analysis did not show the city’s West, South, or East sides were disproportionately affected by outages, as some city council members have suggested.
Gold-Williams reviewed CPS Energy’s overall capacity with trustees and offered a quick explanation of Texas’ energy market. She said discussions around improved communication during adverse events is ongoing.
Last week, during a special board meeting Gold-Williams said that CPS Energy has been using its text messaging system more often, including to inform San Antonians about the recent strains on the grid’s capacity.
Trustee John Steen’s questions focused mainly on statewide issues, such the likelihood of Texas ever connecting its grid to the two federal grids, the state’s summer forecast, how ERCOT’s reserves relate to upcoming peaks, ERCOT’s “reserve margin” — that is, the amount of generating capacity that exceeds demand — and how it relates to times of peak demand.
His questions appeared to highlight city and CPS Energy officials’ frustration with ERCOT and the way the state’s energy system is designed.
“Shouldn’t the state be aiming for a higher reserve margin?” Steen asked. “Shouldn’t the state be doing everything it can to connect our grid to other grids?”
Gold-Williams expressed hope that the agenda for Texas’ special legislative session will addresses some of these statewide issues.
“We haven’t seen the whole agenda for the special session but we’re going to keep being hopeful there,” Gold-Williams said. “We continue to talk to our regulators, we are negotiating with our counterparties, and again we’re pressing on our litigation — all of that continues to happen.”
CPS Energy’s new Chief Operations Officer Fred Bonewell said CPS Energy will focus on a three-pronged approach to making sure the utility never again finds itself in a similar crisis: reliability, resiliency, and continuous improvement.
“My mission here is to develop the safest, most reliable, most portable, and resilient energy system in the country, period, full stop,” Bonewell said.
Disclosure: CPS Energy is a San Antonio Report business member.